Life Among The Sonic Animals
Les Rhinoceros II
The Washington, D.C. trio Les Rhinocéros seems like a perfect match for John Zorn’s Tzadik label, fitting into multiple sets of its favored aesthetics; offhand, the tight jump-cut insanity and rigorous, mind-bending compositions of Zorn’s Naked City comes to mind, along with Bill Laswell’s melting-pot eclecticism, and the trio’s second album, Les Rhinocéros II, was actually recorded at Laswell’s studio. The (mostly) instrumental outfit, led by bassist/multi-instrumentalist Michael Coltun, offers a disorienting and jumbled grab-bag of genre-busting pieces, with the only common thread being a lack of cohesion.
“Bea Spiders” is an energizing burst of Mr. Bungle-esque schizophrenic madness, changing directions whimsically while serving quick metal blasts and fragments of Eastern European folk. The band slams on the brakes for the next track, “Seepy Seepy,” one of the album’s finest and most intriguing numbers, with unsettling background atmospherics and serene guitar melodies from Amit Peled; however, the peace seems to be threatened by an emerging saxophone, like a confused bird entering the pastoral scene, and overdriven drum beats from percussionist Jonathan Burrier.
“Life in a Battery” doesn’t quite work, with its spoken words being sliced and diced among a dirge of bass and percussion pitter patters, and “What Do YOU Know About VELCRO?” is a blend of echoing Jamaican dub, Eastern European scales and lurking synthetics before delving into spy/surf rock and a freak-out pinnacle. “Part Too” throws everything into a pot, with kamel n’goni playing (a Malian lute) and video game electronics over a minimalist sonic web, while “Only Barbarians Use Forks…” ends the album with vigorous passages and a playful yet sinister carnival-esque spirit. The album hits its target more often than it doesn’t, and the group’s willingness to explore is admirable, being a band defined by its violent and confused identity crisis.
Much has already been said about the seemingly whittled-down attention spans of the collective consciousness, but it seems like not enough value has been placed upon the rewards of patience and the temporal qualities of certain cultural offerings, be it a complex wine or a gradually unfurling film. The outstanding new album from the San Francisco instrumental duo Barn Owl, V, is like the aural equivalent of a long voyage through the galaxy, hurtling yet floating with relative comfort in a luxurious spacecraft, offering sonic strata that can be placed in the background to be lightly ignored or at the forefront of one’s attention for deep concentration. Featuring more prominent synths than before, the album is full of ultra-concentrated, sculpted pieces that seem to draw from German Kosmische and ambient music from the ’70s and more recent ambient noise. Tracks draft along but purposefully, not aimlessly and never on autopilot; there is structure here without sounding obviously so, with ample time to stretch its arms and legs, and the proceedings gingerly nudge the listeners’ focus from one moment to the next.
The album’s first half is comprised of shorter pieces, with each being roughly five minutes long, and each track is compelling in its own way; “Blood Echo” is majestic, dark and eerie, with its synth tangles enveloping the tense, percussive hits that reverberate to suggest huge, open spaces. “Pacific Isolation” uses a barely audible static blanket underneath clear and pure electric guitar notes, and every chord change seems like a revelation, packing a lot of subtle drama into less than three minutes. The album’s centerpiece is the second half’s “The Opulent Decline,” a 17-minute piece constructed from a 30-minute improvisation, with a sense of epic vastness and perhaps like a sonic version of artist Olafur Eliasson’s ambitious and huge simulations of natural phenomena.